So, by now, I'm sure you've become aware of a rather awful book aimed at children called "Maggie Goes on a Diet". The book depicts a teenaged girl who is bullied for her size and then goes on a diet and becomes thin and popular. While the protaganist is 14, the book's target audience is actually girls as young as 6. The cover depicts fat Maggie holding a dress in front of a mirror with her thin reflection looking back at her.
So, yeah, pretty much a horrible, horrible thing. Its been getting widespread condemnation, which, of course, means even people who think fat people don't deserve respect think this goes too far. The imagery of the cover really struck me for how tactless it is. It reinforces so many notions of there being thin people just waiting to come out of our fat bodies, a cliché which mostly serves to dehumanize fat people. We aren't actual people, just something covering up thin people. While a lot of mainstream critics were blandly attacking the book for not promoting fat stigma the right way, I kind of kept thinking to what happens after the book.
See, most fat people have dieted and lost weight in their lives. Maggie's story is one I've heard time and time again in fat accepting communities. Growing up fat and getting teased. Finally being able to maintain a low weight for some brief period of time before the inevitable swing of weight cycling brings their size up higher than it was to start. Indeed, its a cycle most fat people experience over and over. Maggie's story rings true to many fat people. Its just not the whole story.
So, as I had been dabling with Tumblr, I saw an opportunity for an art project and several weeks ago started posting my own book covers for sequels to Maggie's first story. Starting with "Maggie Gains Back the Weight and Learns to Accept Her Body":
Whether fat haters like it or not, gaining back the weight is next chapter of virtually ever diet success story. Not because Maggie failed or wanted to gain back the weight, but because dieting is a failed system. I did this pretty quickly in Photoshop, but it got a very nice response on Tumblr and I solicited suggestions from folks on Twitter. I got quite a few great ones (many of which I haven't gotten to, yet) of what else Maggie could do to empower herself. @FatandtheIvy had a particular good one which lead to my next Maggie sequel, “Maggie Gets a Master’s Degree in Gender Studies”:
As I continued making these, I've tried to avoid putting too much baggage on Maggie. She's really meant to be an "every fat woman", so I want people to feel free to envision her whatever they like. As far as I'm concerned, she's female presenting, relatively fair-skinned, and has red hair either by nature or design. Anything else, feel free to imagine. She can be cis or trans. She may be queer or straight or ace. I try not to even think of her as necessarily white, though I presume that was her original creator's intention. She's not pale, after all. I've known people of Latin America, Middle-Eastern, and Asian decent with similar coloring. I've clearly decided that Maggie is not bound by her original creator's intentions and I'm trying to recognize that she need not be bound by my own, either. Maggie is all about possibilities and the possibilities available to fat people are far more numerous than we are often led to believe. Yes, Maggie went on a diet. That just gives her something in common with nearly every fat activist out there. She, like every other fat person, deserved more than for that to be the whole of her story.
So, because not everyone follows me on Tumblr or Twitter, here are the continuing adventures of Maggie as she subverts her diet propaganda roots and empowers herself:
“Maggie Joins a Roller Derby League”
“Maggie Learns to Belly Dance”
“Maggie Goes to Re/Dress NYC”
"Maggie Joins a Punk Rock Band"
"Maggie Protests Fat Stigma"
More, surely, to come. You can follow me on Tumblr for updates.